Gender differences in fantasy authorship and readership

Today, I’m taking a jab at another kind of cliché, though related to authors and readers, not just to their stories.

Root of the difference?

One of the cliché-advices I’ve seen mentioned in regards to writing is ‘write what you know’. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be an aerospace engineer to write about fighter jets and rocketships… but it’s a fact that knowing about something helps with writing about it. And ‘knowing’ may mean from reading in the same genre/niche.

Before I get to this, one thing to remember: people are different and have different tastes. Some are quite specific, some less so. But there are some similarities that lead to this topic. One of them is that male and female readers tend to seek different things in their books. And the people selling books know this – and act on it accordingly.

And since it’s likely people will eventually write a story of a similar type to what they like to read, this may lead to self-targetted audience. Which is not a bad thing – it may be easier to find readers who’ll like your book if you know their tastes through your own.

Popularity and publishing differences

I admit I’m not one to think too much about what is popular, but I try to think about stories with the major buzz over the past two decades – pretty much since Harry Potter, because it was around that time I was looking at what stories would be made into movies next.

And it seems that female-targetting works were able to get the hype way better, at least when it comes to the teen/YA spectrum: Twilight, Cassandra Clare’s books, 50 shades,… while the only major thing more aimed towards male audience in the same age spectrum was Eragon (and that movie failed so hard that the general consensus is that there is no Eragon movie). And as you can see, most of them were traditionally-published hits. This is no surprise, as it’s hard for a self-published author to cause such an ‘avalanche’, but I think there may be a deeper reason behind it: those stories are easier and safer to market. And, before you ask, Game of Thrones came out in the 1990s, same with The Witcher – not exactly a new stuff.

A feminist reacting to the latest GTA game became a meme…

I’d say one of the main reasons is that the male audience may be way more fractured. It’s a bit tough looking back at my high-school years but it’s true that the girls were way more voracious readers while boys spent most of their free time playing computer games and only suffering through the least necessary amount of classic works to pass (or just googling the plot summaries and hoping it’d be enough).

Not for children?

One of the biggest differences is in the form any romantic (sub)plot takes. This, again, goes into the stereotypes in fiction aimed for its particular audience. I would say a lot of this springs from a different plot structure as a whole.

In the typical teen/YA female-oriented stories, the story often has a group of characters spending a lot of time together in quite a close way. Likewise, the romantic subplot is often way more prominent and in the front of the story – as the characters spend a lot of time together which lets their relationship build up over time. This leads to a slower pacing in that aspect (and often to love triangles) as well as to scenes that are slower in nature, and being focused on emotions over physical sensations. Outright explicit scenes aren’t common – which is also an aspect for why those stories may be easier to market (let alone to make into a movie).

In opposition, it’s quite common in male-oriented stories for a small group or just one character to be sent on all kinds of long and dangerous journeys. I’d say this has a large impact on any potential romantic subplot: if the character is traveling and faces separation from their romantic interest (which brings completely different challenges than the opposite case), the scenes when they’re together will be fewer but way more intense – and more physical. That’s not to say there will be no emotions involved or that it’ll be just gratituous sex (this depends on the author a lot) but, again, there are trends. One of them is that the rare time together gives a good chance for physically-intense (and often explicit) scenes. Which, in turn, makes such books harder to market – if a book is tagged 18+ because of a single scene (my case, by the way), it’s pretty much no-go to offer this to the teen audience. Which cuts off a lot of potential sales, and even more for movie potential – though this doesn’t seem to bother streamed series where the audience is in control.

Furthermore, all the above is often reflected in the target audience – you can be sure that if a boy wants to read romantic stuff, or a girl wants to read a story that’s more explicit, there’s nothing preventing them form doing so. More so in the age of e-readers where you don’t have to fear being judged for whatever picture is on the cover. But a good part stays in their waters, so to say.

Just the same, any author can take either approach – or some kind of middle route. And I know this well first-hand as some of the stories I’ve been beta-reading or beta-swapping were this opposite cases – stories written by female authors that fit the male stereotypes in many aspects, as well as stories written by males that had great execution of tender and emotional moments – something female authors tend to do better in.

I’m curious to see what your experience is: do you feel that authors tend to write stories that appeal to their own gender more than the other? Do you, if you’re a writer? Do you know a good book that’s written by female for males or the other way around? Let me know in the comments. (my replies may be delayed, though, for the next week or so)

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